Thursday, January 23, 2020

Lady's Slippers - the Magic of Orchids...

The odds of any green plant or cut bloom surviving the special gardening attentions and flower arranging skills of my two cats are rather slim so if a pot or vase cannot be suspended from - or perched on – some high place, it is systematically relegated to the balcony.

Unfortunately, the voracious vine weavils have put paid to many a plant –  regardless as to whether these were intended for indoor or outdoor life. All my favourite forms of foliage tend to be targeted by the evil weavils. Leaves of ivy, buddleia, passionflower and honeysuckle are chewed to tatters whilst the roots below the soil are gnawed to shreds.

As disheartening as all this can be, however, I have come to resign myself to the idea that the balcony should simply be left to accommodate plants that will not whet the appetite of these marauders. I, meanwhile, can feast my eyes (and nose) on the plants at the garden centre and take photos of the most beautiful specimens to prolong the pleasure and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

This tactic has worked out quite well, and especially at the present time as the balcony has had to be stripped entirely due to renovation work. Last weekend I made my usual addict’s dash to the garden centre in order to get my regular ‘floral fix’ and was not left wanting.

The greenhouse was awash with a flood of pale purple and pink, elegantly borne on stems rising from rich green leaves. Once synonymous with the exotic and rare, we now find orchids on sale everywhere – from supermarkets at knock-down prices to petrol station forecourts as a last-minute gift. Indeed they often seem to have become a little too commonplace and vulgar even – sprayed in gaudy colours, glitter-coated and decorated with naff ribbons! The ones here, however, were breath-taking.

I always found the word ‘orchid’ to sound beautiful and remote; other-wordly, in fact. And yet its origin is a little more earthy… derived from the Greek word (orchis) for testicle, due to the supposed ressemblance of certain root tubers to the male genitalia! Latin names were used for the specimens displayed at the centre, although the familiar names were just as magical ; Moth Orchids, Lady’s Slipper and Venus Slipper.

Whichever the genus, the petals of each orchid seemed artificial, made up from some kind of luxurious, waxy synthetic material, delicately painted in rich colours. The Phalaenopsis –  from the Greek phalaina ‘a kind of moth’ with the suffix -opsis meaning ‘having the appearance of’ is probably the best-known commercial orchid. Flat flowers, with strangely formed parts, are arranged on long, arching stems, while long, ‘leggy’ roots trail below. Native to a number of Asian countries and Australia too, the Moth Orchid is now a staple in florist’s shops and garden nurseries in climates far less hot and humid.

Cypripedioideae is an orchid subfamily commonly referred to as Lady's Slipper. These are recognized by the flower’s slipper-shaped pouches (modified labella). Its intriguing beauty, wields the same power over passing insects that are irresistably drawn down into the pouch, thus fertilizing the flower.

Paphiopedilum, often named the Venus Slipper, is a genus of the Lady Slipper Orchid. The name is derived from Paphos in Cyprus (the mythical birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite) and the Greek word pedilon for ‘slipper’. It is native to a list of countries that sound as if they are drawn from a children’s book of adventure and exploration from a bygone era; Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, southern China, New Guinea and the Solomon and Bismarck Islands… This genus is largely cultivated by seed, as opposed to tissue culture, which means that each plant is unique.

Zygopetalum is a scented variety of the orchid family, with a name that refers to the yoke-like form of the flower’s lip (from the Greek ‘zygon’). The fragrance and petal marking attract the insects that will then act as pollinators. Unlike the other orchids on display, with origins scattered over the eastern hemisphere of the globe, the Zygopetalum is ‘merely’ a native of certain areas of South America. Of course, all orchids that are hybridized and cultivated for mass-market sales today will never have seen their natural habitat as production now is international in scope. So, maybe not so remote and other-worldly after all, but just as mesmerizing. And the best aspect about getting horticultural fixes for free? The variety of ‘drugs’ is never-ending – changing with the seasons and the latest hybrid breakthrough so that I rarely know what I will come across. That really is magical !


  1. thanks for the comment on the crochet dogs. The keyring one's take no time at all to make and would probably sell well.

  2. Yes, I do hope so! Have to master the technique first... and try cat versions too. x

  3. Thanks! I did actually introduce one orchid into the house.... The cats promptly nibbled off the flowers so out it went again!!!


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